Tuesday, August 30, 2011

We're on to something...

We have been continuously talking about how great it is that we basically have two different vacations in one; first a week in India, followed by a week in the Maldives. It's like a surf & turf vacation. We also all agree that we make excellent travel partners, as we are all pretty easy going with similar travel styles, and have some similar travel to do list. Our travel to do lists mostly includes visiting the places that are said to become non existent (hit up Kilimanjaro last year, covering the Maldives this year), and because of this, we have decided to start a travel club - The Surf & Turf Travel Club. There are already discussions and plans in the works for future destinations. Next year is looking like Uganda to see the gorillas (another thing that will soon become nonexistent), followed by Tunisia. So lots more blogging to look forward to.

Back to the trip at hand. This has been quite the experience so far. First, I haven't laughed this hard and this much in a long time. My abs are sore! Second, I discovered I have another twin in this world. Kelley (she is one of Kate's college friends, whom I met for the first time on this trip) and I are basically the same person. Makes sense since we are both Sagittarius. Third, I have become a pro at bargaining...don't mess with me! Fourth, India is HOT! The Ruwe genes have come out to play and I have been a hot sweaty mess! Fifth, I'm still famous in India! Lastly, street vendors, & beggars can become a bit overwhelming! They LOVE us and are ready to try to "cut us a deal". They continue to try to talk us into whatever product or service they're offering, no matter how many times we say no. I've gotten over my feeling of being rude for ignoring or becoming short pretty quickly. I've had to get very stern a few times, and in some instances it worked, and some not so much. It's become quite humorous...it is what it is...this is India.

A recap of the last few days:

Sunday, we all managed to wake up at 2am wide awake. Too early to accomplish anything, we snuggled in the big bed and watched YouTube music videos and Kate's favorite transvestite British comedian...funny stuff. Once it was a normal hour we discovered breakfast on the patio and ended up reading out there for a few hours. It felt very Julia Roberts/Eat Pray Love...remember I am famous in India! Kate, our ring leader, sorted out our plan for the day and we set off.

First stop, check out the Imperial Palace Hotel, a swanky establishment we wanted to try for lunch and a cocktail. It was a beautiful, luxurious hotel and smelled amazing. I will be buying some Jasmine for my apartment. After getting snubbed by the concierge, we decided to go to a lonely planet recommended place for lunch. Again, felt like Julia Roberts (apparently I'm on a JR kick)in Pretty Woman when she was turned away on Rodeo Drive...Big mistake Imperial Palace, Huge! The LP restaurant suggestion was delicious, much better choice! From there, we walked to Old Delhi, witnessing some teens playing cricket in the alley along the way. That was kind of cool to see. Sort of reminded me of playing games with the neighborhood kids as a child in Uruguay.

Old Delhi is definitely more of what I had envisioned India to be like. New Delhi is modern with British influence, a bit more spread out. Old Delhi is crowded, with a lot of street markets and vendors. I became overwhelmed pretty quickly with the heat, honking of horns, cars and tuk tuks squeezing by, and vendors trying to lure you in. We did find a pashmina store where I mastered the bargaining technique; basically walk out until they accept your price.

As the rain began to roll in, we went to a rundown hotel roof deck for some mango lassis (a common fruit yogurt based drink) and watched the storm. It was cute to observe little children playing and dancing in the rain on their roof decks.

Monday morning, we had arranged for yoga in the hotel garden. Again, a very Julia Roberts zen moment. The yoga instructor was this really intriguing lady, whose life I kind of want live. Apparently she was an American raised in Kashmir. She had moved back to the states with her parents at the age of 17. She followed in her mom's footsteps and studied yoga. The hotel owner, a family friend, offered her a job to run the yoga spa that they plan to add on to the hotel and she moved to Delhi. I'm now considering taking up yoga.

After breakfast we had arranged for a driver to take us to Agra and Jaipur versus dealing with the trains. We had the cutest driver, Vishnu. I don't think we were his typical clientele. He seemed a bit nervous when he picked us up, but he quickly warmed up to us. How could you not?!? We even got him laughing with us a few times, once to the point of tears and he had to walk away from the table to gain composure. He also was really excited to tell us all about his fiancé. We're supposed to call her tomorrow and tell her how great Vishnu is, because he is pretty awesome! It was great too, because he helped us out when the waiter tried to get us to pay more for lunch. It made me sad to think where he must be sleeping when we are staying in such nice hotels. Even if we tried to pay for him to get a room in our hotel they wouldn't allow it. The caste system is definitely evident.

More to come on the Taj Mahal and Jaipur!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Things I Learned in India - Day 1

- Lanes appear to be optional and not required....there were maybe four to five rows of cars and mopeds in a three lane road. One could reach out and touch the passenger of a neighboring car, we were that close. "Pardon me, but do you have any Grey Poupon"
- Merging, regardless if cars are there or not, is common...hence the optional lanes.
- Traffic in the states is nothing compared to here...I could never drive in this city because I would be too tense.
- Women tend to side saddle on the back of mopeds...not safe in my opinoin (Kate witnessed an accident last time she was here because a woman's sari got caught and she was thrown off the moped)
- When stopped at lights, children go in the middle of the street to beg for money, tapping on your window and performing with back flips and twirling hats with nuts (reminded me of slum dog millionaire)
- Apparently hats that have twirling nuts are entertaining.
- Leave the bargaining to our ringleader, Kate!
- I really like chai tea in India (have never liked it in the states)
- Apparently I'm famous...I was stopped early on to have my picture taken with randoms. Then noticed several Indians filming us as we were exploring.
- No is optional to the street vendors...they don't leave you alone!
- Cassette tapes are still in...Henry, our driver, (whose name is really Rakeesh, or something like that. For whatever reason I kept thinking it was Henry) pulled one out and had to
manually wind it up with his finger to provide us with some punjabi tunes.
- I am definitely still afraid of snakes, as I ran off when a street performer whipped out a cobra behind me. Still quivering over that cobra!
- Loud farts in public are no big deal...walking up to Lotus Temple, an old man ripped the loudest fart so nonchalantly.
- It's okay to reverse about a mile back on a highway at night....this definitely happened when our taxi driver missed the turn for our hotel....

Today's events included:
- Breakfast an all American diner, where they played some classics from Johnny Cash and other old big hits. I know, I know...an all American diner in India, but we wanted a good breakfast to start the day and it was by where we were going. We had to ease in our first day.
- Wandering the beautifully landscaped Lodi Gardens. We saw a butterfly garden, some bonsai trees, and crumbling tombs from the 15th & 16th century of Sayyid and Lodi.
- Walking through markets.
- Henry picked us up in a rickshaw and took us to the India Gate, where there is a war memorial and tomb from the unknown soldier. We could see the president's house through the statue/towers.
- We visited Safdarjang's tomb; a beautiful Mughal architecture from the 18th century
- Henry took us to some Indian shops for pashminas, saris, rugs, jewels, teas. I was a bit overwhelmed by the sales people. Kelley and I left the bargaining to our ring leader, Kate. She was a pro.
- Finally had some traditional Indian food for lunch/dinner. Delicious and not too spicy.
- Stopped at a temple, called the lotus temple, which is a Baha'i house of worship. This was a really beautiful structure of white Greek marble panels on the pedals. There were 27 pedals with nine pools surrounding.

All in all a good first day and looking forward to exploring old Delhi tomorrow. Today was spent exploring New Delhi.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

All my bags are packed...

I'm ready to go..

This time tomorrow, I will be approximately 5 hours into my flight with 9 more to go. I've got my kindle loaded with books, a couple of magazines, researched American's movie selection, packed some benedryl in my carry on, & secured a seat that is in a row with 5 empty seats. I'm not worried one bit about this flight. I actually think I will keep myself pretty occupied if I'm not sprawled out, asleep, on those 5 empty seats (I felt pretty smart about looking into that and making that seat change).

Crazy, that this India/Maldives trip is finally here, after over a year of planning. Like one of my coworkers said, "today must feel like Christmas Eve for you,"and it sure does. It will be hard to sleep tonight with the excitement of the trip.

Somehow this week just flew by, and here I thought it was going to totally drag. Luckily work was a good steady pace of busy, tying up loose ends. In fact, things seemed a little too smooth, as I left work today (unlike the fire drills I left when I went to Africa). I'm hoping I still have a job when I return!!

After stressing for the last couple of weeks about what to pack, I finally think I'm all set. I've been a bit stressed because everything I read about India says to dress conservatively as a woman, you'll get a lot of stares (One of my coworkers told me to already expect a lot of stares being a tall blonde girl, great). Dressing conservatively wouldn't normally be a problem, but it is expected to be hot & humid this time of year (did I mention it's the tail end of Monsoon season). As some of you know, I don't tolerate heat well and was lucky to receive some sweaty genes from the fam! This should be interesting. I did finally settle on some wardrobe choice though. I'm just going to have to tough it out, I guess. I ended up packing some long skirts, tank tops and short sleeve shirts. I plan to cover up with the many scarves and pashminas I intend to buy there, as they are known for their textiles. I'm also hoping to buy some traditional Indian Saris and Salwar Kameez (tunics and gauchos). The books all say wearing traditional Indian attire leaves a positive impression and you can get it relatively cheap. When in Rome...

So what exactly am I going to do when I get there. Well, I'll land approximately 24 hours after I take off. We've secured a hotel in Friend's Colony, New Delhi from 8/26-8/29. While in Delhi we'll wander around and explore the markets, gardens, tombs, forts, & monuments. It's up in the air at this moment. I plan do to do more research on the flight, and we'll make more definitive decisions once we all arrive. From Delhi, we'll head to Agra 8/29-8/31. Agra is the home of the Taj Mahal and we are planning on doing a sunrise tour, which should provide some amazing pictures! There was talk of also doing a day trip to Keoladeo National Park. Once we are done in Agra, we'll be exploring Jaipur from 8/31-9/2. Again no definitive plans here yet, but I would like to check out the Amber Fort. After that we head back to Delhi where we'll spend one more night, and then it is off to the Maldives via a short layover in Sri Lanka.

While in the Maldives, we will be boarding the Manta Charter (pictured), which will be our home for the next week. Our agenda consists of scuba diving, snorkeling, testing out surfing, games (yes, there are talks of bringing twister) sun bathing, and relaxing! I'm just hoping I don't run into any sharks scuba diving. After hearing about the Seychelles shark attack, I'm a little freaked out! Although, Google maps does show a good distance between the two islands, so I feel a little at ease.

Stay tuned for more adventures...

I'm leaving on a jet plane...don't know when I'll be back again....

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Scuba Steve's got nothing on me...

In exactly two weeks I will be in the air, on my way to New Delhi! This trip has been a plan in the works for just a little over a year. I can't believe it is right around the corner! As the date gets closer, I'm realizing there is still so much to do...one of those things being - Scuba certification!

Going to the Maldives, where the reefs and dive sites are supposed to be incredible, I knew I had to get scuba certified, plus I think my travel companions are all certified...I don't want to be left out.

I was holding out on doing this, as the classes in Chicago were kind of expensive and time consuming. I also thought maybe I could get it done while in the Maldives. My wise older brother talked some sense into me and I took the plunge. He brought up a good point that you don't want to spend your trip learning this for the first time, certification requires a few hours of classroom work. He also mentioned that his first time diving was funny with his sinuses, so it's a good idea to see how you feel diving. Thanks for the advice, John!

I signed up for a class at underwater safaris (www.uwsafaris.com). I was very pleased with them, and my instructor, Orest.

Reading my homework assignment before our first class, I was a bit intimidated and overwhelmed with what I had signed up for, but Orest did such a fantastic job. He was very patient, and thorough. He worked with each of us to make sure we were confident on each skill set. My nerves were quickly put to ease that first class, and I really enjoyed each class.

The training is through PADI (professional association of diving instructors), a world recognized certification course (our boat requires PADI certification). The course consisted of four 3 hour classes, with reading material, quizzes, and pool work, where we learned the skills required for the open water dive required for certification.

This weekend I've been completing my open water dive at Haigh Quarry an hour south of Chicago, in Kankakee. Luckily enough, Orest was the instructor leading the weekend open water dive, so that put me at ease moving from the pool to the Quarry. Also, my buddy in class (buddy system is key in scuba diving) signed up for the weekend course, so it was great to have some familiar faces today.

The other unexpected benefit of the dive certification is that I made a few new friends in the city!

One more dive tomorrow, and I will be certified and ready to swim with exotic fishies in the Maldives.

Now that I'll be certified, my mind is already racing with future vacation spots involving diving...Honduras, Australia - Great Barrier Reef, the list goes on...anyone up for tagging along?